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Anthropology | Social Justice Colloquium Series

2016 Fall Social Justice Series

Mondays, 4:00-5:20 in the Humanities Lab (Battelle 228),
Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology
Lite fare provided


September 19

Perceived Powerlessness and Riots

Cathy Schneider, American University

In Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York I argued that riots erupt when elites activate racial boundaries, police engage in racialized violence, and minorities lack alternative avenues of redress. Riots are the last resort of a community that find all paths to justice blocked. More recently I interviewed the parents of Eric Garner and activists in New York, friends and pastors of Michael Brown and other activists in Ferguson, and the sister and friends of 17-year-old Amine Bentounsi killed by police in Noisy-le-Sec outside Paris and other activists fighting police brutality in France. I also conducted ethnographic research and observed workshops that brought together young people and police in a mediation center in the poor Parisian suburb Pierreftitte-sur-Seine (created by the Iranian immigrant activist Hibat Tabib). I argue that the presence of the following alternative avenues of redress -- strong social movement and community-based organizations with a nonviolent repertoire for addressing police violence; political authorities or officials in charge of police who are receptive to community demands; and/or dispute resolution mechanisms that offer victims an alternative path to justice — reduce feelings of powerlessness and approval of the use of more violent forms of contention. This research served as a pilot study for larger project that will include a large survey to measure perceived powerlessness and approval or willingness to engage in riots. I will talk about this research and the research I have proposed for a large NSF grant to study perceived powerlessness and approval of more violent forms of contention in six sites in United States and France.

September 26

Origins of the US Environmental Justice Movement

Tracy Perkins, Howard University Department of Sociology and Anthropology

In this talk, Dr. Perkins revisits the origins of the national environmental justice movement through a focus on California's activist history. In contrast to a common assumption that environmental justice activism arose from the Civil Rights networks of the American South and spread across the nation, she shows how it emerged in multiple locations that became loosely knit together with the support of social movement organizations. However, early environmental justice activism was not entirely spontaneous — California environmental justice activism drew on the existing infrastructure of the farmworkers’ movement and anti-toxics organizations. Dr. Perkins uses this history to explore social movement origin stories, the meaning of environmental justice, and the complex racial histories of the anti-toxics and environmental justice movements.

October 3

Manantali Resettlement: 30 Years Later

Dolores Koenig, AU Anthropology Department

In 1986-87, some 8000 residents of the Bafing river valley were resettled into new areas due to the construction of the Manantali dam. Older people, who lived through the displacement, still often talk as if it happened yesterday. For some younger folks, however, this is the only life that they know. What opportunities exist for people after resettlement and how does life compare to what was possible in the old sites? Preliminary analysis of data gathered during summer 2016 suggest that standards of living have increased substantially since the resettlement, due primarily to larger political-economic changes throughout the country. People have generally changed from a strategy of subsistence farming to more complex livelihood strategies that mix agricultural, local non-agricultural, and migration activities. However, even as people take up many new activities, they evaluate livelihood success in terms of the agricultural self-sufficiency. Although people in the region tend to understand these choices as an effect of resettlement, they largely parallel the changes in livelihoods and living standards found in other non-resettled parts of rural southern Mali.

October 10

Trans and Queer Anthropology: Activism, Academia and Community Accountability

Elijah Edelman, Department of Anthropology, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI

In this discussion we address how academics and students engaging in Trans and Queer-specific anthropological inquiry can meaningfully learn from and integrate LGBT activists and communities of practice in their work. Specifically, we will explore international and US case studies that provide examples of both best practices as well as concrete ways in which to address structural inequity in LGBT civil rights discourses. This session will also provide opportunities for participants to brainstorm ways to shift or reformulate their own research practices.

October 17

Theatre on the Front Lines

Caleen Jennings, Sybil Roberts, Cara Gabriel, Department of Performing Arts

Three theatre scholar/practitioners share samples of their work and discuss the creation and performance of theatre for social change.

October 24

Hope against the evidence? The Underside of Resistance Politics in Palestine

Irene Calis

The expanded view of resistance beyond revolutionary protest or transformative agency has helped to identify everyday struggles as political acts. While the framework of “everyday resistance” has proved a valuable “diagnostic of power,” there remains a tendency in writings on political violence and oppression to frame human agency in a tone of optimism. This hopeful gaze has implications for ongoing emancipatory struggles; in the case of Palestine, it has generated an analytical blind spot to worsening human conditions. Without a grounded view of the everyday, messy business of survival, theoretical postulations about collective agency under political oppression can thereby do more harm than good.

October 31

Borderline Black: Performing Identity at the Boundaries of the United States and Mexico

Sarah N Artes, AU Anthropology Department

This presentation explores the intersections of race, citizenship, and identity on the United States-Mexico border through performance of African American History in El Paso, Texas, a border town.

November 7

Uncovering Mexico’s Third Root: the social impact of Africans and African descendants in Colonial Mexico

Julie Wesp, AU Anthropology Department

At least 250,000 enslaved Africans arrived to the colony of New Spain from the early 16th to the 18th centuries, yet their contribution and that of their descendants to colonial society has often been overlooked within the Mexican national identity. This invisibilization has not only caused national and international misunderstandings about the history of slavery in New Spain, but also pervasive prejudice and discrimination against modern Afro-Mexican descendant communities. This talk explores how archaeological research can help draw attention to the essential role that enslaved Africans and their descendants played in the success of the New Spain viceroyalty and the socio-cultural impact that their presence had on Mexican society. In particular, I will explore skeletal indicators of activity for a group of individuals of African descent from the Hospital Real San José de los Naturales in Central Mexico. This bioarchaeological perspective of colonial activity illustrates a varied experience of labor opportunities that in turn influenced the social relationships among the diverse residents of the urban capital of New Spain.

November 14

The Importance of Implementing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Education - Meaningful Diversity Can't be a Solo Act

Arvenita Washington Cherry, AU Anthropology Department

This presentation will discuss issues of racial and ethnic identity for students, parents, and educators in Prince George's County, Maryland and will engage participants in thinking about how diversity initiatives broadly, can be more transformative.

November 21

Ethnographic Film & Public Anthropology

Harjant Gill, Towson University

My presentation will examine the possibilities and limitations of doing public/applied anthropology using visual media, especially documentary film. I will focus on various opportunities and avenues available for disseminating visual scholarship outside of the academy, as well as the unforeseen challenges such initiatives might encounter.

November 28

An Archaeology of the Transient Class: The Politics of Movement and Freedom from the Gilded Age to the Present

Justin Uehlein, AU Anthropology Department

In the 19th and early 20th century, hobos crisscrossed the nation, filling temporary jobs in factories, mines, farms and even constructing the very railroads that came to serve as their illicit mode of transportation. They were depicted as socially deviant, animal-like, and criminally minded in most media outlets and were the subject of intense legal persecution. While composing a necessary labor pool, hobos were delegitimized politically and used by media outlets to further divide working-class communities. Today’s migrant laborers are often displayed in the news in a similarly dehumanizing manner. In this discussion I explore the politics of transience, past and present. I pay particular attention to the divisive tactics employed by media outlets and politicians in constructing a narrative about transient laborers and show some of the strategies used to subvert these corrosive depictions.

December 5

Good Intentions Gone Wrong: Short Term Medical Missions and Iatrogenesis in Honduras

Laura S. Jung, AU Anthropology Department

This presentation explores what happens when short-term medical missions (STMM) attempt to provide general medicine and manage complicated health needs in Honduras. I present a few ethnographic examples of ways that STMM are responsible for physical iatrogenesis (e.g. injury to patients, overmedication), social iatrogenesis (e.g. when practices and policies reinforce systems that produce ill-health, or undermine infrastructure), and cultural iatrogenesis (erasure of local knowledge and ways of understanding and experience health, illness, pain, loss, and healing, disruption or destruction of social fabrics and community interdependence).